The Palestinian flag consists of red, black, white and green colors
You may have noticed that the Palestinian flag is very similar to flags of other Arab countries that also use the colors red, black, green and white. The Palestinian flag consists of those four colors. There are three horizontal stripes, black, white and green and they are overlaid by a red triangle on the left side.
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This flag was designed as the flag of the Arab revolt on the 10th of June 1916. According to the Passia website (passia.org) it was designed by Sharif Hussein.
He was was an Arab leader from the Banu Hashim clan who was the Sharif and Emir of Mecca and who proclaimed the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. He was a 37th generation direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad and belongs to the Hashemite family.
Historical meaning of the four colors
The BLACK and WHITE colored flags go back to the 7th century and even before. The black flag was already used in pre-Islamic times during battles to symbolize revenge. It was the color of the headdress worn by troops that went to battle.
In the 7th century, the century of the rise of Islam and the liberation of Mecca, as they perceived it, it was raised together with the white flag. The white flag had the proclamation of faith written on it in Arabic: There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.
The Umayyads, that ruled for ninety years, from 661 until 750 AD took the white color as their symbol. It was used as a reminder of the Prophet’s first battle at Badr, and to distinguish themselves from the Abbasids, by using white, rather than black, as their color of mourning.
The Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258), ruling from Baghdad, took black as a symbol of mourning for the assassination of relatives of the Prophet and in remembrance of the Battle of Karbala, where Ali, the grandson of Muhammad was killed.
The GREEN color was used later by the Fatimid Dynasty, which was founded in Morocco by Abdullah Al-Mahdi, and went on to rule all of North Africa.
They took green as their color to symbolize their allegiance to Ali, not the grandson but the cousin of the Prophet, whose name was also Ali. During the prophet’s lifetime they managed to escape an assassination attempt on the prophet by wrapping Ali in a green coverlet in place of the Prophet.
Generally green is an important color in Islam and one of the Muslim Saints is called Al Khader, the green spirit. We talked about this in the episode about the history of Islam.
The green color was used from the Fatimid time continuously until the rule of Salah Al-Din (Saladin) Al-Ayoubi, who briefly used yellow during the confrontation with the Crusaders.
And for the RED color. The first Islamic group to use the red color were the Khawarij, they formed the first republican party in the early days of Islam. Their symbol was the red flag.
Also Arab tribes who participated in the conquest of North Africa and Andalusia carried the red flag, which became the symbol of the Islamic rulers of Andalusia (756-1355).
In modern times, red symbolizes the Ashrafs of the Hijaz and the Hashemites, descendants of the Prophet.
So these are the backgrounds of the colors of the flags that were combined in 1916 during the Arab revolt.
The poem of Safi al-Din al-Hili
There is another, more Romantic version, about the origins of the flag and that version relates the choice of colors to the Arab nationalist ‘Literary Club’ in Istanbul in 1909, based on the words of the 13th-century Arab poet Safi al-Din al-Hili:
Ask the high rising spears, of our aspirations
Bring witness the swords, did we lose hope
We are a band, honor halts our souls
Of beginning with harm, those who won’t harm us
White are our deeds, black are our battles,
Green are our fields, red are our swords.
So a flag in these four colors was first raised by the Palestinian people in 1917 as the flag of the Arab national movement. In 1947, the Arab Ba’ath Party interpreted the flag as a symbol of the liberation and unity of the Arab nation.
The Arab revolt flag became the Palestinian flag
The Palestinian people adopted the flag of the Arab Revolt at the Palestinian conference in Gaza in October 1948. The flag was recognized by the Arab League as the flag of the Palestinian people.
It was further endorsed by the PLO, the representative of the Palestinians, In 1964, at the Palestinian conference in Jerusalem in 1964 the PLO, the representative of the Palestinians, endorsed the flag though it modified the flag a little by swapping around the green and the white color and using a shorter red triangle.
The Palestinian flag forbidden by Israel
It’s interesting to remember that from 1967 when Israeli occupied Gaza, the Westbank, Golan Heights and Sinai, the use of the Palestinian flag was prohibited by law. This lasted until the Oslo Accords in 1993.
During the years that the use of the Palestinian flag was forbidden it was also forbidden to use the four colors of the flag in any other form. Many Palestinians were becoming very creative by hanging laundry in the colors of the flag, or making art with the colors of the flag and the watermelon naturally became a symbol of resistance, because it naturally HAS the four colors of the Palestinian flag.
And THAT is the story behind the Palestinian flag.
For this episode I used a lot of information from the Passia website and I would like to mention that you can find a lot of interesting information on their website. Passia stands for The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, it was founded in 1987 by Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi and a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals in Jerusalem. It is very much focused on research, education, dialogue, discussion and trainings for students to build skills and build capacity. It is an independent think tank not affiliated with any government, political party or organization. So check out their website at https://www.passia.org